A Gripping Struggle

Something that I’ve been wrestling with for a while is what to do for a tail vise for my workbench.

I really like the idea of a wagon vise, conceptually that is perfect.  The board lays completely on top of the bench, and the dog sticks up out of a slot for clamping.  This particular one was shop-built by Chris Schwarz for one of his workbenches using an off the shelf vise screw and simple wooden guides.  It demonstrates the simplicity nicely, and you can see how the board would be perfectly supported with the vise only clamping and not otherwise interfering.

Chris Schwarz’ Wagon Vise, Circa 2006

There are a couple of things that concern me about the commercial wagon vises I’ve seen.  Don’t get me wrong, they all appear to be wonderful  vises — I’m concerned about the complexity of installing one.  In particular about the amount of surgery I’d have to do on my mostly-finished bench top.  I want to finish this project (appearances to the contrary notwithstanding) so I can get on with making other stuff I have in mind.

Installing a commercial wagon vise typically involves not only milling a slot in the top (that’s a given), but adding an end cap and carving away a lot of the underside of the bench for clearance.  I can’t put my finger on exactly why those things bother me so much, maybe by the end of this post I’ll have a better handle on it.

So, with an eye toward simpler approaches that get me to a functioning bench, let’s look at the alternatives.

Common Face Vise Mounted on the Bench End

I’ve seen lots of people do this, including my spiritual woodworking leader (you caught me, I’m a Schwarz fanboi) on his Cherry-slabbed Roubo bench.  On that particular bench Chris used an antique vise and added an asymmetric chop to move the bench dog closer to the front.  I’d probably choose this Jorgenson face vise for that role.

Jorgensen 41012, $143 from Amazon.com 

Face VIse as Tail Vise, Beautiful

The pros are pretty obvious – very simple to install, no end cap or heavy surgery on my bench.  My only concern is that the tail end of the board might not be well-supported, but looking at the substantial chop on Chris’ setup I think that’s unlikely.  I may have just talked myself into this approach.

Lee Valley Tail VIse

Lee Valley has an interesting approach, and it looks to be pretty simple to install.  It looks like it should provide plenty of support, but requires cutting a notch in the corner of the bench, and the moving part has to hang about 3.5″ below the bottom of the bench to attach to the mechanism.  Anyone have firsthand experience with this vise?

Veritas Quick-RElease Sliding Tail Vias, $279


I’m going to gloss over the Lee Valley/Veritas twin screw vise, but I suppose it’s another alternative.  It it would have the advantage of clamping wide boards between the screws for dovetailing case pieces.  But looking at the installation instructions leads me to believe it ‘s not designed with thick bench tops in mind.

On to Wagon Vises…

Benchcrafted Tail Vise

The Benchcrafted tail vise seems to be what most folks hold up as the gold standard for building wagon vises.  My ONLY problem with this is the need to carve out so much of the underside of the bench.  It’s a bit spendy, but quality costs money and I don’t have a problem paying for a solid vise setup.  Maybe I’m making too big a deal out if it?  It also looks like it would be a pain to do without a beefy router, especially since my benchtop is already glued up and pretty close to square/true already.

Benchcrafted Tail Vise, $369

Bench Top Butchery – Making Room for the Hardware

Hovarter Wagon Vise

This is a really slick setup, and I’m tempted.  Mounting it requires a slot for the do (no getting away from that with a wagon vise after all) and an end cap to support the drive rod.  The mechanism is pretty slick too.  I had to go find the patent application to figure it out out.  In short, turning the handle operates a wedge that tips a clutch ring so it locks onto the round shaft, then continues to push it forward to tighten the dog against the workpiece.  A quarter turn in the other direction and it unlocks, and you can slide it back.  I like this one a lot.  I’d really like to try it out in person, I have a small concern that the clutch ring won’t hold up or could slip.

Hovarter Custom Vise, $240

Home Made Setup

Perhaps not surprising, I’m also thinking about making my own setup.  I’m pretty confident I could make something that would mount simply and work well.  But on the other hand, I don’t need another project – I need to finish my bench so I can get on with other woodworking projects.  Of course, on the other other hand, another project never hurt anyone…did it?

I’ll close with a picture of someone else’s home-brew wagon vise.  It’s simple in the extreme, but it looks like it would probably work reasonably well.


Categories: Uncategorized | 10 Comments

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10 thoughts on “A Gripping Struggle

  1. It looks like the Hovarter vise or the last one would be the easiest to install if your top is already made. Of the two I would go with the Myers wagon vise. My wagon vise is similar to the Chris Schwartz vise in the first pic. The only knock I have against is it’s a hazard when the handle is fully sticks out.

    • All three of the true wagon vise choices I showed (Benchcrafted, Hovater and Mayers) have the advantage of not sticking out when opened which I agree is a problem. On my bench that would position the handle right in a sensitive area. Ouch!

      I as looking at a picture of your bench yesterday and wondering what kind of setup you had.

  2. Joe, I have built and used several benches, in my shop now are 4 benches. 2 have quick release face vises, one has a face and twin screw end vise and one has a wagon and leg vise. The only vise I ever use is the leg vise. A leg vise has way more holding power than any of the other vises, it is actually surprising when you use one for the first time. For working the surface of wide stock all I ever use any more are bench stops of various styles. I think they are much faster to use, no clamping and unclamping, to turn a board over you just turn it over, or flip it end for end, no clamping at all.

    • Yeah, I agree. Since the vises on my current “bench” suck so loudly I end up working against a stop anyway. In fact when I was planing the legs a couple of weeks ago I set up stops (by clamping scraps to the bench top) on 3 sides of the part. Without doing that (and even with it) planing across the part (“traversing”) is tough.

  3. The Jorgensen vise will not really work for spreading because its quick-release mechanism is a half-nut. It is otherwise a good vise.

    I have a the Veritas tail vise, with an improvised chop so that I can use it on a thick workbench top. It works like a champ. See the build here.

  4. My wagon vise is right out of Woodsmith issue #50 and my shoulder vise is a copy of Frank Klausz’s workbench. How does the #8 compare to the using the #7 for the same situation? I don’t need much of an excuse to buy one.

    • Hard to say how they compare. I have both and always seem to use my 8. Maybe because I put a Hock blade in it, or maybe because I’m just used to picking it up and I know it’s already set up. It’s overkill for small parts, but I got it when I was working on flattening the top on my project bench. I was having trouble getting the faces of the timbers flat enough with my #6, and I went a little crazy on ebay.

      *that’s* never happened before 🙂

  5. Swanz

    Hi Joe. Hey, would yoy happen to have a link to any write ups on Will Myer’s wagon ?.

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